The promise of solar

Sun Plus Nanotechnology: Can Solar Energy Get Bigger by Thinking Small?
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2013/04/130429-nanotechnology-solar-energy-efficiency/

It seems that there are now some ideas in the lab that might transform the photovoltaic industry in the next couple of decades. For a long time I wasn’t seeing any movement in the basic science behind solar cells and figured we might have topped out of the achievable results (despite the promise being so huge). Of course we still need to store the captured energy, but there appear to be pending breakthroughs on energy storage mechanisms on the horizon, so things might get very interesting just as the supply of fossil fuels tap out. Of course, it will still take 100’s of trillions of dollars to convert the world’s infrastructure to the ‘next great thing’, but it is amazing how quickly something like that can happen when each individual makes a calculation and decides that they are personally better off with the new ‘thing’ at the same time.

A little jab for the pirates

Video game studio pirates its own game — with an ironic twist
http://money.cnn.com/2013/04/29/technology/innovation/game-dev-tycoon-piracy/index.html?source=cnn_bin

Kinda amusing though it seems clear the best value was in the free publicity than in any increase in revenue. More ironic tome that Pirate Bay took down THIS software when they won’t take down ‘real’ pirated software.

InJustice in America

While Wronged Homeowners Got $300 Apiece in Foreclosure Settlement, Consultants Who Helped Protect Banks Got $2 Billion
http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/blogs/taibblog/while-wronged-homeowners-got-300-apiece-in-foreclosure-settlement-consultants-who-helped-protect-banks-got-2-billion-20130426

This an interesting article and I recommend reading it to understand how corrupt our government is, but it is more or less just the trigger for this post. I have railed on our InJustice system here a number of times and sort of got tired beating that dead horse and left off blogging on the topic. It is sort of like fighting the tide; though, presuming you can survive high tide, you are safe in the knowledge that the tide will recede. I try to tell myself that this time is no different than past rising tides of corruption (and there have been some amazing periods of corruption in our past!) and that we will see a reversal of all the social ills that are being foisted on us by the oligarchy, but I can’t shake the feeling that this time is different. Of course, in the past these cycles tended to be broken by a world war, maybe that is what is missing so far. Then again, maybe this time really is different. I see the beginning (actually, a well established) feudal society here in the US. Feudalism is very stable and enormously sucks for those in the bottom 90% of society (really, for about 8 of that 10% the situation isn’t very great either, just isn’t constant unremitting misery). Our society has already progressed very far along this path, now that almost 50% of our population is at or below the poverty level (see here for some background; be sure to follow the link to the article that lead to the post) and what passed for middle class 40 years ago ($50K family income) now translates to barely above the poverty line and the cash equivalent to 40 year ago middle class now putting you in the top 25% (and the purchasing equivalent the top 2.5%), our ‘middle class’ has already shrunk to less than 10% of our population.

Oh, and we are programmed by the Madison Avenue advertisers paid for by our controlling oligarchy to blame the people who are suffering rather than the people responsible for the suffering.

But this post is really about how law is no longer applicable here in the Great USofA. I was watching some blowhard on CNN yesterday babbling about how ‘evil’ it was of the Obama administration (like somehow Obama is so all powerful that he can control things that happen at the local court level (at least not yet)) to have dared to have read the Boston Bomber (BB; since I am too lazy to look up his name is) his Miranda rights 48 hours after he had been captured. I pointed out to my wife (who really wasn’t interested in hearing my shouting, but she happened to be in the room) that he might as well have said ‘I object to the use of the law in the US, no one should have any rights if the government chooses not to offer them’. In our Great Country to be accused now is to be guilty. Beyond the trial-by-media (circus) that happens so often, if our government decides you should become a non-person (citizen be damned!), then you are a non-person. You now have no rights, no legal representation, no right to a speed trial, nothing. The government deems you, damned you are. That the BB wasn’t read his rights immediately was already a travesty showing that law has been stripped away from our society. That he was a US citizen only compounded the issue; if we are a nation of laws then those laws apply to everyone, not just citizens. There is ALWAYS a ‘trickle down’ effect: when the federal government stops caring about law, the state governments follow right behind (see here and here for an example). How can any rational person think that city and county governments would hesitate?

So, to summarize, we are already in a lawless feudal society where wealth buys you anything and being poor is a crime. Sure, maybe the pendulum will swing back like has done so many times in the past (we can fantasize it will do so absent a world war), but I am thinking that this time it is going to stick. Maybe it will revert, but on a timescale that will make it such that I still will want to leave (unless I somehow get into the top hundredth of a percent and can ignore the plight of all you poor people).

Good intentions…

After 2 decades of tracking down world’s oldest trees, group ready to begin planting clones
http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/04/22/after-2-decades-tracking-down-world-oldest-trees-group-ready-to-begin-planting/

If you assume, as I do, that trees that have lived long lives are simply lucky, meaning there wasn’t anything intrinsic in their DNA/epigenome that allowed them to achieve their lofty ages, then all these guys are doing are creating identical clones that will all be equally sensitive to any disease they are vulnerable to, thus, no different from the monoculture of many of our crops, sensitive to a ‘pandemic’ that will wipe them all out. Given that these people clearly intend for these clones to live for thousands of years, the lifetime risk of such an event happening is quite substantial.

Of course, if there is indeed something intrinsic that enabled these trees to live long and prosper (having seen the routine predation and happenstance that can kill plants at all ages, I would need a great deal of convincing), then they might be resistant to a number of diseases already and this might be a better approach than growing seedlings. On the other, other hand, it would be important to ensure that these trees are self-fertile (many species are not) so they don’t accidentally create a population that is incapable of breeding.

Oh well, if anyone cared what I thought I no doubt would be a billionaire owner of several space stations.

Quantum leap for batteries?

Small in size, big on power: New microbatteries a boost for electronics
http://news.illinois.edu/news/13/0416microbatteries_WilliamKing.html

I haven’t looked at the paper so don’t have an opinion on the actual technology, but the idea is grand. One of the limiting factors in energy storage has been speed of charge/discharge or total power tradeoffs. You could get fantastic speed with a capacitor and functionally infinite charge/discharge capability, but with a rather small amount of total power OR you could something with a lot of power but the charge/discharge was limited and the number of cycles quite finite. If this product can break out of this paradigm and give high power AND high charge/discharge (and one would like to hope it also includes a very high number of cycles) then we might be on the cusp of a huge change in world order. Of course, if the price is so astronomical that no one but NASA can afford to buy them (hello fuel cells!) then it won’t make no nevermind.

What a RUSH

It’s not cool to like RUSH. That’s OK
http://www.cnn.com/2013/04/18/showbiz/geek-out-rush/index.html?hpt=hp_c3

I was a major Rush fan when I was a late teenager and early tweenager (in addition to Pink Floyd) (I still enjoy listening, but have widened my tastes such they are no longer dominant). What hooked me as a fan was hearing their music live and finding it had the exact same level of complexity and interest as it did in the studio. Studio music an afford to be quite complex, the musicians have the leisure to go back rerecord mistakes, add in supporting parts, heck, they can get someone else to play the music. There is a lot of studio music I love, yet would never consider the thought of listening to them live (this even before I got paranoid about my hearing after blowing out both my eardrums (with an oxyacetylene balloon, if you must know)). However, once I heard the musicians of Rush play that same amazing music live I became hooked. The lyrics are, of course, amazing. Rush was known for a time as the “thinking man’s heavy metal” (largely before they became known as a progressive rock band and the period I prefer). As amazing as the lyrics are (and I think they are amazing, here is just one example), the music is even more amazing. I still, after all these decades, consider La Villa Strangiato as one of my all-time favorite pieces of music. I have actually had to ration my listening to keep from ruining it for myself. Though my favorite album remains Moving Pictures (I _love_ the ‘recursive’ symbolism of the cover art!), I have favorite songs on all the subsequent (and prior!) albums. That the trio are so talented AND have remained drug free, alive and married to the same people (except in the tragic case of their drummer, Neil Peart) makes their story even more amazing. These guys initially toured with KISS and greatly confused the KISS band members with their reticence to party.

Anyway, I just felt prompted by the article to tell my reader(s) about Rush and attempt to encourage them to take a listen. Granted Geddy Lee’s voice takes a special effort to enjoy (frankly, I liked him better when he was more raw, that must say something about my personality), but the overall experience is amazing. While not as much a fan of guitar as others, Alex Lifeson is also considered (as is Geddy and Neil in their areas) as among the very best in the world. Indeed, Rush may be the most famous band and band members no one has ever heard of. Forty years and still going strong!

Why do we blame the poor and not the rich?

Who’s to blame for the middle class struggle?
http://money.cnn.com/2013/04/18/news/economy/middle-class-poor/index.html?source=cnn_bin

I suspect one large reason is that what is ‘middle class‘ today is actually on the edge of being poor. Back when being middle class meant only one bread winner, a nice house with a white picket fence, 1.5 cars and 2.5 children (who all went to affordable college without accumulating a life-time of debt) I suspect that people were more generous to the poor (there were a lot fewer of them!). Now that the poor represent close to (or more, depending on how you measure things) half our population, the half that can afford to pay taxes is quite resentful of the half that can’t. Rather than address the root core of the issue (the vast asymmetry of income), it is much easier to blame others. Since it is the American Way to imagine oneself as one of the elite, the majority of our population, it seems, never wants to do anything to damage their prospects for that never arriving event (indeed, as the asymmetry increases the probability (always tiny to begin with) shrinks even faster) and thus coddle the rich (the vast majority of which inherited their wealth and have done (and continue to do) bupkis to be ‘job creators’ (what a bunch of bunk! I can’t believe the sheeple eat that lie up)). What is left then? Blame the nonexistent ‘welfare queen‘! The poor, after all, can’t fight back (they have no resources!).

So, instead of complaining about the real core of the problem and risking having to invest effort to do something about it (like elect politicians that actually represent them instead of the oligarchy), it is way easier to make poor people even more miserable. Ironic, I feel, as because of our dysfunctional social safety net any one of the current ‘middle class’ are just a few weeks of unemployment from becoming a member of the hated poor.

Bitcoin

I lost $50,000 in Bitcoin crash, but I’m still a believer
http://buzz.money.cnn.com/2013/04/18/bitcoin-investor/?source=cnn_bin

I have tried to make sense of the bitcoin (official source here) without much luck. The origins sound incredibly suspicious (can’t go into any details on my suspicions) and the purpose entirely suspect. Granted it is ‘government free’, but since there are a very finite number of them it would be trivial to track who has what coinage and while they may disappear for a while, in order to make any real use of them you are going to have to engage in an electronic transaction, thus creating a trail. If you want anonymous transactions, stick with gold, diamonds, platinum, etc. Cash is still king and there are plenty of people who can launder money for you (for a fat fee, of course, but you are going to pay something to hide yourself). Which government’s cash is largely irrelevant if you are laundering the money and ultimately you wind up with something like the old numbered Swiss bank account.

If you want to speculate (i.e., gamble; ‘speculate’ is just polite society for rolling the dice), sure, go for it. You might even be able to make a lot of money. However, all monetary tokens depend entirely on the transactees all agreeing that the tokens have a certain value. Once any side loses faith (make no mistake, it is _entirely_ a faith-based concept!) then the ‘value’ will plummet, likely to worthlessness.

Lets force our citizens to give EVEN MORE money to Wall Street!

A New Idea to Fix the Retirement-Savings Crisis
http://business.time.com/2013/04/17/a-new-idea-to-fix-the-retirement-savings-crisis/?hpt=hp_t5

OK, since Social Security is now ‘broke’ (it is this way because of extended, concerted efforts by the people in charge) and we have too many poor people littering our streets seeking handouts, lets force our brave citizens to accept even lower paychecks and then require them to put that money into accounts to be manipulated by Wall Street! How can we possibly lose? The poor get poorer and the rich get richer! Ain’t America Great?

Earlier I talk about a different form of retirement account that is not managed by the government yet also not managed by Wall Street. If we could somehow build a government that was actually beholden to its average citizen (as opposed to the top fraction of a percent oligarchy) then I would say that the only ‘problem’ with Social Security is it is under funded (let the tax apply to all of everyone’s earnings, wages AND investment income!) and any ‘interest’ is from T-bills which are (currently) paying less than inflation. Of course, if our government manages the trillions of dollars in the SS fund as if it were a regular pension fund (i.e., by buying stocks, bonds, etc.) then our government would be in the business of managing a whole host of corporations through the fund’s controlling interest in stock. If our government took a pledge not to ‘meddle’ then in effect we are immediately returning back to our current state where the board and executives can rape and pillage their own company willy nilly since being an owner of a company (i.e., a stock holder) doesn’t mean a damn thing any more.

What is dysfunctional about our Social Security system is that it is under constant attack and has no powerful defenders. Oh, I already talked about the idea of extending the retirement age.